NOTE: These tips can also be used for business owners, entrepreneurs, job hunters and anyone looking to network for any reason. Be creative and adapt them for your own use. Make sure to let me know how it goes!
Nonprofits always seem to be invited to “tabling” events. You know the kind – a community health fair/school fair/resource event where you dutifully set up an information table, then sit there and hope that someone signs up for your email list.
Or you attend a conference, trade show or local chamber networking event on behalf of your nonprofit, but you aren’t sure how to translate all the energy and enthusiasm from the event into donors, volunteers and online supporters.
Here are 10 way to use networking events to build your nonprofit’s online community.
1) Be proactive, not reactive. Always take two people to events where you have to staff a table – one to woman the table and answer questions, and another to explore the other tables and press the flesh. If you can’t take two people, find a quiet time during the event and make sure to circulate. Get your card and information in the hands of others, tell them about your Facebook page and Twitter feed, get them excited about joining you and learning more. Bring a stack of business cards and brochures, perfect your elevator pitch and network!
2) Use your trust advantage. Nonprofits have an advantage at these types of events because they are not directly selling anything. You will find people skeptical to talk to you at first, but when you deliver your compelling story and mission statement, describing how you are impacting the community, their faces will often soften and they will be more receptive.
3) Speak first and keep it simple. Break the ice with, “My name is Julia, and I work at The Human Fund: Money For People, a grassroots nonprofit located here on the North Shore. We provide free educational services to youth and families to prevent kids from dropping out of school. What do you do?”
4) Listen. (Pretty straightforward.)
5) Get off your phone. Would you approach someone sitting behind an information table hunched over their phone? Of course, using your phone to take photos of the event to put on Instagram, checking in on Foursquare and Facebook and live-tweeting are all acceptable. Use sparingly.
6) Use your collateral materials wisely. Put all of your social media URLs, especially Facebook and Twitter, on your business cards and brochures. If you have multiple accounts and there is not enough room, pick the two with the most activity and feature them. Then go back to your main website and make sure there are buttons and active (not broken!) links to each of your social networking sites so that potential friends and followers can connect from there.
7) Connect on social networks. After the event, take your stack of materials and business cards and put them into a pile. Go through systematically, connecting to all the organizations on Facebook and Twitter (via your organization). (To learn how and why to use Facebook as your Business Page, click here.) Connect with people on LinkedIn and Google+ and Pinterest. Think outside the box. Link your nonprofit accounts to as many people and organizations as possible.
8) Never, ever, ever automatically add people that you meet at networking events to your email list. Never. This is a huge turn-off, and may get you kicked off your email service. This also goes for your direct mail list. If you feel that someone may be interested in learning more about what you do, send a personalized email asking them if they would like to get your email newsletters, and reminding them that they can unsubscribe at any time. (You can also use this as a chance to remind them to connect with you on your nonprofit’s social media accounts.)
9) Follow up. For specific people that you met where you feel there is a good connection, follow up immediately after the event with a personal email. Let them know about a future event, an interesting blog post from your organization or something entirely off topic that they may be interested in. Double check your email signature and make sure that all the social media links work and are prominently places.
When used in a strategic and systematic way, person-to-person networking events can be very effective in building your online communities, both personal and professionally.
Do you have other tips for nonprofit professionals and others? Anything that I missed? Please leave your feedback, thoughts, ideas in the Comments section. Thanks for reading!